Who is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and why was she imprisoned in Iran?
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was imprisoned for five years in Iran for engaging in “espionage activities” against the Islamic Republic, was formally handed over to a British team awaiting her release on Wednesday.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was born in Tehran, Iran on December 26, 1978. She studied English literature at the University of Tehran. Shortly afterward, she became involved in journalism and worked for a number of Iranian newspapers, including Hamshahri. She then began to work with international organizations based in Iran.
In 2007, Zaghari-Ratcliffe moved to the UK after receiving a scholarship to study for a Master’s degree. She met her future husband, Richard Ratcliffe, shortly after her arrival in the UK. The couple married in August 2009 in Winchester.
On 3 April 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at the Imam Khomeini Airport. In early September 2016, she was sentenced to five years in prison for plotting to orchestrate a soft overthrow of the Islamic Republic.
Training people to spread propaganda
In October 2017, the prosecutor general of Tehran stated that she was being held for running “a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran.”
Both Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, had maintained she was simply visiting family while on vacation.
However, a month later, Boris Johnson, who at the time was Britain’s foreign secretary, said, “When we look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it, at the very limit.”
Johnson was later forced to retract his remarks, which had confirmed the charges leveled against her.
Hours after her departure, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said there is no link between the repayment of Iran’s debt by the British government and the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri, another British national who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for cooperating with Israel’s spy agency Mossad and two years for obtaining 33,000 euros in “illicit funds.”
“I explicitly state that there is no connection between the [repayment] and the release of those who were arrested and tried for espionage and security charges,” Amir-Abdollahian said.
He noted that their release was the decision of Iran’s Judiciary based on humanitarian grounds, adding that reports that said there was a link between the two issues are “false” and “inaccurate.”
Reports in recent days said Britain would pay $530 million (400 million pounds) to Iran to settle a debt related to an unfulfilled military contract that dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Britain has delayed the repayment for many years citing problems faced because of foreign sanctions against Iran. The money was owed to Iran over an upfront payment made by the former Shah of Iran to Britain to buy 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other military vehicles.
The Iranian foreign minister explained that he had been in constant contact with his British counterpart, Liz Truss, over the long-overdue debt in the last four months.